#SchoolYourself smashes HIV stigma in the MSM community in South Africa

We The Brave creates a powerful and real message for World AIDS Day 2015 in collaboration with photographer, Justin Polkey.

Photograph by Justin Polkey

HIV began to destroy the lives of literally millions of people in South Africa in the 80s. Now, the country is the highest profile of the HIV epidemic in the world.

The horrific connotations of HIV/AIDS through scary governmental bulletins and medical journals, racking up the death count with no hope of a cure, made this a taboo subject. Once known as the ‘gay plague’, the virus has continued to stigmatise men who have sex with men for nearly thirty years. South Africa is still an extremely conservative country compared to the rest of the world. It’s a huge ask to get South Africans to talk about HIV, homosexuality and sex in general — a big problem if you want to educate the nation on an illness.

We The Brave went online with a fresh approach to talk to real people about HIV.

The digital campaign, #SchoolYourself went live on the 1st of December 2015 to educate and engage people on HIV testing, prevention, safe sex and treatment. The campaign literally runs red as the site takes on a revamp that bleeds into social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Being “#BraveEnough to School Yourself,” means that you’re brave enough to educate yourself on HIV, not fall in line with stigma and to get yourself tested.

The idea was to keep it real. Real MSM models, no re-touching, real talk to real people. The #SchoolYourself campaign stands out online by combining high fashion with hard-core education.

HIV is not the real enemy here, stigma is.We knew we had to approach this extremely sensitive subject in a different way so as not to alienate men by using unattainable washboard ab-ed stereotypical models, but instead relate to real MSM men fighting stigma everyday. Never overtly sexual or pornographic, the core of the concept relied on sexual innuendos and suggestive sexuality”. — Derrick Pitts, Art Director

Over the month of December, #SchoolYourself educated the globe on HIV 101, taking the audience through a sexy syllabus from what the virus is, how to get tested, the treatment, where to go and why it is so important to not spread stigma. Expertly written articles, real interviews and social engagement around current ideas on HIV were the drivers behind the campaign.

The powerful juxtaposition of traditional HIV messaging and high fashion photography, styled through a lens of realism is what the campaign, #BraveEnough to School Yourself relies on to demand attention from the viewer.

This campaign is not about taking away from how serious HIV is, it’s about teaching people to deal. The bottom line is that HIV isn’t going away unless we do something. On that note, We The Brave encourages the community to learn more about PrEP, a prevention treatment against HIV that is currently changing the world. Be #BraveEnough to PrEP for 2016 and keep working towards an AIDS free world.



Art director: Derrick Pitts

Copywriter: Caroline Celliers

Photographer: Justin Polkey

Stylist: Jeandre Venter

Models: Francois Viljoen, Tumi September, Powda Powda, Sikelela Nomvete

Executive Creative Director: Adam Holtrop

Find out more:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WeTheBraveSA

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeTheBraveSA

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/WeTheBraveSA/

Website: http://www.wethebrave.co.za/

About We The Brave:

‘WeTheBrave’ is a sexual health campaign being launched with the MSM community in mind. This is the first large-scale campaign ever in our country to specifically address gay men and other men who have sex with men.

Spearheaded by the Anova Health Institute, and funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the WeTheBrave.co.za campaign will address both prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgemental and sex positive way, which will be entertaining and engaging.

Are you #BraveEnough to make healthy sexual choices, like wearing a condom, getting tested regularly and knowing your status?